8 English Sparkling Wines to Try
All eyes are on London this weekend with the coronation of King Charles III. Regardless of your feelings on England’s monarchy—either as a symbol of ancient tradition and gracious manners or repression and misallocated public funds—there’s no denying that this first coronation of a new monarch for the U.K. in over 75 years is a historic occasion. And such occasions often call for bubbles.
Now is a perfect time to consider that the sparkling wines of England are beginning to make a splash beyond their own shores.
“There are many reasons for growth in the category of English sparkling, both economic and climate-related,” says Dan Orton, sommelier at London’s Covent Garden’s The 10 Cases.
Whether you’re watching the coronation in delight, disdain or not at all but want a bottle of some quality brunch bubbles, we’ve assembled a list of some of England’s top sparkling wines to try.
The Growth of English Sparkling Wine
While wine grapes have been planted in England since well before the time of King Henry VIII, English winemaking has seen a rather stop-start timeline due to climate challenges, phylloxera, war and changing import tax laws.
The output of domestic wine was often more robust during periods when high tariffs were placed on wines imported from mainland Europe. But when those tariffs were lifted, most importantly in the mid-1800s, domestic wine in England was bested by the availability of quality wines from France.
After a near-halting of the English wine industry during World Wars I and II, plantings of vines began picking up throughout the 1970s and 80s. A warming climate helped to usher in an era of winemaking that favored sparkling wine, rather than sweeter still wines that England had been primarily producing. According to a 2022 data report by Wines of Great Britain, hectarage in the U.K. has more than doubled in the past eight years and more than quadrupled since 2000.
“I’d mark the 1988 planting of vines at Nyetimber as being the foundational act of the modern era of English sparkling wine,” says Donald Edwards, head sommelier at London’s La Trompette. “Obviously there had been wineries before who made sparkling wine, notably Camel Valley, but Nyetimber marked the moment when proper ambition was applied to the task of making great, Champagne-style sparkling wine in the U.K.”
Olivia Thomas, sales manager for West Sussex’s Nutbourne Vineyards, concurs. “Our neighbors up the road at Nyetimber put English sparkling wine on the map when they won the International Wine and Spirit Competition trophy for best sparkling wine,” she says. “This region has attracted vineyard investment and talented winemakers ever since. Even French Champagne houses, such as Taittinger and Pommery, are future-proofing and investing in English vines.”
What Is English Sparkling Wine?
A majority of English sparkling wine is made in the Champagne method, with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir being the most widely utilized grapes. (The third is Pinot Meunier, if you’re noticing a trend here.) England’s southeastern-most counties of Kent, Sussex and Hampshire have the most vineyard hectarage, and sport chalk limestone soils, resulting in wines with bright acidity and freshness.
Both Edwards and Orton mention that several up-and-comers and iconoclasts are worth keeping an eye on as the category changes. “With English wine being still a relatively new industry, it does not have to conform to any set rules,” says Orton. “We are seeing new sparkling wines from a wide range of producers, including 100% Meunier wines, [and other grapes such as Seyval Blanc], Pét Nats and sparkling reds, and this is inspiring to everyone in the wine industry.”
Edwards agrees. “English sparkling wine is a thrilling category in that we’re watching it develop and mature in real-time,” he says. “It’s also happening in a country that has a unique position in the world of fine wine as one of the major markets and repositories of knowledge. So, the young industry has been interrogated in ways that I think few other emerging regions have experienced.”
English Sparkling Wines to Try
96 Points Wine Enthusiast
Blanc de blancs is a style at which England excels, and Gusbourne’s vintage bottling is a wonderfully elegant example. Delicate aromas of citrus blossom and green apple are underpinned by richer notes of raw nuts and cream, with a whisper of ginger spice. The palate is clean and crunchy, with a vivid, piercing line of acidity straight down the middle of the tongue. It’s broadened by a chalky texture. The fizz is fine and persistent, and there’s a long, lemon-and-ginger finish. Editor’s Choice —Christina Pickard
96 Points Wine Enthusiast
Bone-dry and bracing, this wafts summer apple orchard scents alongside lemon oil and toast, with a saline back note. Vivacious bubbles and citrusy acidity add exceptional freshness, which works in harmony with the textural richness. Editor’s Choice —C.P.
Vintage Wine & Port
95 Points Wine Enthusiast
This is a vibrant and beautifully crafted blanc de blancs. Aromas of lemon, pear and green apple float from the glass, followed by more delicate floral notes. There’s a backbone of biscuit and cream. Mouthwatering acidity rushes across the tongue at first sip, hitting the back of the mouth and taking the citrus and orchard fruit notes along for the ride. Textural with length, depth and a slightly saline, yeasty finish, this is an elegant and versatile food wine. #54 Enthusiast 100 2022 —C.P.
94 Points Wine Enthusiast
This Pinot Noir-led bubbly from West Sussex bursts from the glass with singular notes of lemon, thyme and fresh hazelnut, then back to more citrus—fresh this time—with an underbelly of cream and a hint of smoke. The palate is equally expressive, the bright, mouthwatering acidity slicing through the gentle toast with a tangy zing of lemon right to the finish. Bracingly refreshing and nothing but class, this is delicious now, chilled for a warm summer’s day. Editor’s Choice —C.P.
94 Points Wine Enthusiast
Classically structured and beautifully balanced, delicate fruit aromas dance with creamier, toastier ones. It hints at jasmine, white peach, apple with custard and lemon oil. There’s a silkiness to the mouthfeel, then a crunch of acidity and fine bubbles. Those delicate aromas flow seamlessly into flavors. A poised and ultra-food-friendly bottling. The back label suggests fish and chips. This reviewer agrees. —C.P.
93 Points Wine Enthusiast
This label is comparatively new to the scene but has come strongly out of the gate with classic, elegant bubbles. The rosé is fruit-driven and perfumed with aromas of strawberry, apple, cherry blossom and cream. There’s a toasty, biscuity underbelly. The palate is dry with just a whisper of sweetness, brightened by crisp acidity and very vigorous bubbles. Seriously structured but with oodles of crowd appeal. —C.P.
The Whisky Exchange
91 Points Wine Enthusiast
On a classic southeast England soil combo of clay, greensand and chalk, this is a bright and fruit-driven bottling with notes of peaches and cream, orange blossoms and green apple skins, backed gently by raw almonds and toast. The palate is mostly dry with just a whisper of sweetness and mouthwatering acidity. Bubbles prickle softly, and fresh floral and citrus flavors flow through to the finish. —C.P.
90 Points Wine Enthusiast
Raw almond, strawberries still on their stems, and floral aromas open this English rosé. The palate is dry overall, but a hint of sweetness is detectable. Lovely beads of bubbles and a crisp acidity add plenty of freshness, and a lingering red berry finish makes another sip an easy endeavor. —C.P.
Is English Sparkling Wine as Good as Champagne?
Most English sparkling wines utilize the Champagne method. They also often use the same grapes as Champagne, which are frequently grown in soils with compositions like those in the Champagne region. England is arguably the closest traditional method sparkling wine region to Champagne. Ergo, it’s an excellent Champagne alternative.
“Champagne and English sparkling wine share an incredibly close familial relationship,” says Edwards. “I often think of us as being akin to a very northerly Cote des Bars.”
Unfortunately, because of England’s continually challenging climate, low yields in English sparkling wines often necessitate Champagne’s prices, so it’s not always a cheaper alternative.
Where to Buy English Sparkling Wine
Most major metropolitan areas likely have some English sparkling on the shelves. If your local retailer doesn’t carry at least one English sparkling option, online retailers have several options available for nationwide shipping.
What Do You Eat with English Sparkling Wine?
“Because of the bright acidity and citrus, English sparkling wines pair beautifully with seafood, particularly scallops and oysters,” says Thomas. Additionally, given sparkling wines’ ability to elevate fried foods, an English sparkling and fish and chips combo would make for an excellent pairing.
Edwards notes that some of his favorite pairings for English sparkling include roast chicken and beef carpaccio.
“Anything and everything,” says Orton. “There is an English wine for every moment and every food; the fun bit is giving it all a go.”